Saturday, July 6, 2013

Petersen prepared for journey

When Cal Petersen was growing up in Waterloo, IA, he had NHL dreams. The lofty goal became one step closer to reality when the Buffalo Sabres selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.

The 6-foot-2 Petersen recently completed his first season of Junior A hockey with his hometown Black Hawks, going 21-11-1 with a 2.97 GAA and .906 save% to earn a spot on the USHL All-Rookie Team. His performance led him to Toronto for the NHL Draft Combine and a stop in Buffalo for a private workout. The Sabres' interest was a mutual proposition given one of the figures who helped model Petersen's game.

"I completely idolized (Ryan) Miller," Petersen told Sabres Prospects this week. "Like a lot of NHL goaltenders, I watch and try to take a couple of things from them stylistically. Miller has definitely been one of the top three growing up. I try to take a couple of pieces of his game and put it into mine. It's pretty cool thinking that in 1999 the Buffalo Sabres also drafted a pretty dang good goaltender in the fifth round."

Petersen will get a chance to show off his quickness and agility when the Sabres hold their annual Development Camp at First Niagara Center July 10-12. From there, it'll be back home to Waterloo for another year before heading to the University of Notre Dame in 2014 on an athletic scholarship.

While the first-rate education will help shape Petersen the man, the Notre Dame hockey program will no doubt help groom Petersen the player. The Irish are set to join Hockey East, which is arguably college hockey's most competitive conference. Combine that with top notch non-conference match-ups thanks to Notre Dame's contract with NBC Sports, and the newest Sabres goalie prospect will be plenty tested as his talent matures.

"I really liked the professionalism that the whole school embodied, and I think the hockey team embodies it the most," stated Petersen. "They have a professional style facility. They treat the players like pros. They have professional level coaches that, in my opinion, are the best in the business. The school doesn't lack in academics or athletics, which was a very good pull for me."


Petersen knows that he'll be battling for playing time on his way to the NHL. He got a good taste of that concept this season in Waterloo, where he joined forces with fellow draft prospect Eamon McAdam (70th overall, NYI) to backbone the Hawks to a playoff berth. The duo was locked in a timeshare before Petersen pulled away to close the regular season with wins in his final six starts.

"Obviously it was a really unique situation, but I looked at it as an opportunity to be pushed by another highly touted goaltender," said Petersen. "I needed to bring a high level of performance every day to a practice or a game. There wasn't any room for mediocre play."

Having a quality counterpart naturally kept Petersen's compete level high, but the experience also served as a sample of what lays ahead as he carves out his path to success.

"It gave me an early peak into how it'd be in the pros playing with another good goaltender right behind you and not having that luxury of taking a couple of games off or a couple of practices off," said Petersen. "It was an everyday thing and I had to elevate my game for a longer period of time than I had been used to."

While managing his mental focus through every minute of action, Petersen also had to adapt to a variety of game conditions. Waterloo's Young Arena houses the only Olympic-sized rink in the USHL, giving him a chance to log a load of work on the wider ice surface while working against the different angles of NHL-sized rinks on the road.

"I think there are a lot of advantages to it. There's a lot more puck movement on the bigger sheet. More passes cross ice. Guys have a little more room to make plays," explained Petersen. "On the smaller sheet, what I've noticed the most is the quicker, faster plays in tight and a lot more traffic in front of the net. So there were two dynamics when it came to playing at home and then playing on the road. I think it made me a better goaltender seeing those different situations."


With his college enrollment still a year away and the draft behind him, Petersen is maintaining his edge for the task at hand before returning to Waterloo as the leading man.

"As of right now, I'm preparing for the upcoming development camp. Staying sharp and making sure that my body is in the best shape," said Petersen. "As far as goals for the season, I'll have more of an opportunity to play longer stretches of games and be able carry my team for longer periods of time like I did at the end of the year. I'm looking to be the best goaltender in the league and to carry my team to the Clark Cup. I'm looking to win every game that I can and hopefully steal a few that we shouldn't."

Petersen has been walking the walk this summer, pushing his body on and off the ice to order achieve his aggressive expectations. Part of his progression has been improving his mobility in the crease.

"I'm a big believer in being an extremely good skater. I think that helps with every aspect of the goaltending position," said Petersen. "If you look at the best goaltenders in the NHL, you're looking at also the best skaters out of all the goaltenders in the NHL."

Along with his continued work with Minneapolis-based ProHybrid Training, another resource at Petersen's disposal has been Waterloo's goaltending coach and Buffalo native, Chris Economou. The pair have worked together over the past year-and-a-half to build Petersen's all around skills with a special focus on economy of movement.

"Chris really helped me build on the whole skating part and being able to travel to shots on my feet without doing what most big goaltenders do, which is sliding or dropping early before the shot is released," added Petersen. "He really stressed traveling on my feet and being able to arrive at different situations quicker and more compact, and being a little more faster, sharper, and more efficient with my movement."


Being a product of a non-traditional hockey market has seen Petersen make plenty of sacrifices to get where he is today. Another new challenge could await him this week when he arrives in Buffalo for his first NHL Development Camp.

"I've heard a couple of rumors about some Navy SEALs and an early morning wake-up call one of those days," explained the stopper. "So I have that hanging over me to look forward to (laughs)."

Early wake up calls or not, the kid from Iowa seems to be impressed with what Buffalo has to offer.

"I really like it. It has that big city feel without the hassle of the big city. I really like cars and I like driving a lot, and you have room to breathe there," said Petersen.

With his career kicking into gear, one thing is clear. Petersen will be on anything but cruise control as he travels the road to the top.